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ISLAMABAD: Sugar, wheat flour, and some other subsidised commodities are in short supply at most Utility Stores especially in rural areas, forcing the consumers to purchase it from the open market, a survey carried out by Business Recorder revealed.

The Utility Stores Corporation (USC) has offered 10 percent to 15 percent subsidy on 19 essential commodities during the holy month of Ramzan, but most of the USC outlets are short of sugar and wheat flour, it was noted.

Sugar and wheat flour prices have witnessed significant increase since March 2020 as sugar price jumped from Rs3,760 per 50kg bag to Rs4,800 per bag, while wheat flour from Rs800 per 20kg bag to Rs1,300 per bag. The consumers also complained that they were unable to get ghee and cooking oil on subsidised rates and are forced to purchase expensive items from open market, saying B-grade ghee/cooking oil in open market was available at Rs230 per 900 gram pack, which USC has announced to provide at Rs170 per kg, but owing to shortage they were unable to get the benefit of the subsidy.

The federal government on March 11 decided to provide Rs7.8 billion under Ramazan relief package for the supply of essential food items at controlled prices at the USC outlets across the country.

Even in the heart of Islamabad, sugar was not available in a USC outlet situated in G-6 sector, where the manager told this correspondent that available supply has been sold out and he was expecting fresh supply will arrive on today (Thursday). About the shortage of supply, the official said that the outlet got a huge rush of buyers as sugar was available at Rs68 per kg and wheat flour at Rs808 per 20kg bag, which as compared to open market is too much cheaper as in open market sugar is being sold at Rs105 per kg and wheat flour at Rs1,300 per 20kg bag.

However, the subsidy is not going to provide much relief to the masses as the USC has hiked prices of a number of these commodities a couple of months before Ramazan.

The federal government has already announced a Ramzan relief package of Rs7.8 billion.

During this Ramazan, the USC will offer subsidy on seven brands of ghee, a food commodity whose consumption tremendously increases during the Islamic holy month.

However, the popular ghee and cooking oils brands have already hiked their prices by Rs10 to Rs15 per kilogramme.

The USC also offers subsidy on lintels under the Ramazan relief package. However, the price of daal chana, which is among the most consumed lintels has already been increased by Rs15.

The USC also recently increased the price of daal maash by Rs15.

This hike will offset the benefit of an almost equal amount of subsidy offered under the package.

The prices of beverages have also been increased a couple of months back by up to Rs35.

The price of some cold drinks is also increased by Rs20.

The prices of a number of spices were also increased in February.

This hike in prices ahead of offering a subsidy seems like a gimmick and not a true relief.

The government also approved a proposal to provide 70,000 metric tons wheat flour at Rs30 to Rs50 per kg reduced rates.

The 50,000 metric tons sugar was to be provided at Rs40 per kg lower than market rates, and the 30,000 metric tons ghee was to be sold at Rs43 lower than the market rates.

The USC managing director had informed the government that procurement of subsidised items would start from April 1 to ensure availability of basic items at discounted prices across 4,000 outlets of the USCs throughout the country in Ramazan.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021

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